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Martial Arts Invades Reality TV

As part of a growing trend, Martial Arts is appearing in more forms of entertainment. Martial Arts TV shows, following in the tradition of Kung Fu and other broadcasts of its time, continue to spring up. Martial Arts movies are being shown again on the big screen outside of Chinatowns around the world. Even children's TV and action figures have strong Martial Arts influences.

So it comes as no surprise that eventually Reality TV would be bit by the Martial Arts bug. This season on American Idol, one of the remaining 12, Vonzell Solomon, is actually a black belt in Sembact Martial Arts. Hailing from Ft. Myers, Florida, she's known by her fans as "Baby V". Her father is an owner of the Sembact Martial Arts Academy in Ft. Myers, Florida. I'm personally curious to see if she will ever break out with a karate kick on stage, a la Elvis style.

But she's not the only martial artist to find their way into reality TV. Recently, SpikeTV started up a show known as The Ultimate Fighter. The show is a mix between Survivor and some of the talent shows like America's Next Top Model.

Two teams have been setup in order to compete against one another. Each week, the show goes through some of their daily lives. There is a challenge that occurs about halfway through the show. The challenge is normally a test of endurance, strength, and speed, characteristics that all fighters must have. The winning team gets to pick who the two fighters will be for the week to meet up at the end of the show. The loser of that final match must leave the show. At stake are two contracts (one for middleweight and one for light heavy weight) to become fighters in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), an event circuit that has become popular in mixed martial arts.

This week, I actually took the time to sit and watch this show. Well, to be more specific, I TiVO'ed it and watched it this morning. I must first admit that I'm not a huge reality TV show person, though I have followed Top Model for three seasons (heading into the fourth) now.

The show started off a bit slow. There was a lot of introspection with each of the different fighters that as a new watcher, I couldn't appreciate. As a martial artist myself, I would have been interested in understanding just a bit more about what these guys are going through to get trained and ready. I wanted to feel their pain, like we do during a good Survivor episode. I wanted to know more than just the fact there were all these guys living in a house together.

The challenge could have been given more impact if it had somehow been tied more tightly to an actual fighting need. Dragging heavy bags through mud like a group of work ox didn't do enough for me. The one thing I love about Top Model is that the challenge given each week starts with, "As a Top Model, you will be expected to.... thus, this challenge will test how well you..." Perhaps the producers or directors of The Ultimate Fighter could sit down and take a lesson or two from these other shows on how to construct a challenge.

Finally, the match at the end, the moment I had been most looking forward to. The octagon cage that has become the hallmark of the UFC was in a gym somewhere. No audience watching the match beyond the other occupants in the room. One of the things that made shows like Missy's Road to Stardom interesting was that they actually performed in front of live audiences. I wondered if the UFC could not have potentially brought some of these fighters into one of their actual events to have exhibition fights between the fighters. Seeing how these fighters reacted in public might have made the show worth it.

But as the show stands, while I'm glad that martial arts is getting more coverage. The Ultimate Fighter is not the ultimate Reality TV show. Perhaps they'll learn and do better next time.

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